Giovanni Petrantoni, President and Founder of Fragnova Foundation
Though media headlines, businesses and brands may try and convince you otherwise, don’t be fooled into thinking the concept of the metaverse – an all-encompassing network of digital worlds focussed on social connection – is anything new. The term itself dates back to Neil Stephenson’s 1992 novel, Snow Crash, but people have been socialising in massive online worlds in the early 2000s, in games such as World of Warcraft and RuneScape and on social platforms such as Second Life and Habbo Hotel.
Despite this, we’ve seen hundreds of self-proclaimed ‘metaverse pioneers’ emerge in the last few years as they announce their metaverse strategies and share their vision for the next era of the internet. From software developers and e-commerce outlets to network providers and social media platforms, investment into building metaverse technology and infrastructure managed to surpass $120 billion in the first five months of 2022 alone.
Unfortunately, the strategies underpinning this technology and infrastructure are being developed behind closed doors. This means we’ve got hundreds of different companies building their own versions of what they believe will be the future of the metaverse. Not only does this make attempts at defining the metaverse more ambiguous, it means we’ll inevitably end up with hundreds of different metaverse platforms, many of them closed off, which is at complete odds with the openness and interoperability a true metaverse requires.
Simply put: the way that many big tech companies and ambitious start-ups are building the metaverse is all wrong. Thankfully, there are some valuable lessons to be learned from one of the original Metaverse pioneers, Second Life, an online virtual world developed by Linden Lab and released in 2003.
Despite its age, Second Life is still the best example we’ve got to a working metaverse. But before you make comparisons to the likes of Fortnite and Roblox, it’s not so much a game as it is a social platform. There are no goals or objectives. Instead, you socialise with friends, buy and sell property, shop for virtual merchandise, dance at nightclubs, watch live events and even attend virtual classes and exhibitions – all the stuff that’s described as being essential to the metaverse.
But there’s one important thing that sets Second Life apart from the majority of metaverse contenders, and that’s its content creation tools. In Second Life, anyone can create and sell content, ranging from skins, animations and textures to property, clothing and even virtual art. As long as you’ve got the coding and development know-how, this can be done by utilising the in-world tools alongside Linden Scripting Language, Second Life’s programming language.
By giving its users the tools and resources that it needs to create, Second Life has continued to innovate and evolve over the years. It’s a shining example of how integral thriving creator economies are to the success of metaverse platforms. Video games such as Fortnite, developed by Epic Games, are starting to recognise this as they roll out their own creator tools such as Fortnite Creative, powered by Epic’s Unreal engine. It’s likely that we’ll see more companies follow suit and pivot to creator economies in the future, but the openness and transparency of such economies is proving to be one of the biggest challenges facing the development of the metaverse.
This is largely down to how creators are compensated for their work, as well as the interoperability of the assets they’re developing. Let’s take Roblox, largely considered to be one of the leading players in the metaverse, as an example. There are over 40 million games on the Roblox platform at the time of writing, many of which have been created by users through Roblox’s proprietary game development tool, Roblox Studio.
Roblox doesn’t directly pay developers for making games. Instead, creators are compensated through in-game purchases, but Roblox takes a 75% commission on all earnings that are made through its games. While Roblox reportedly paid out $129 million to developers in Q2 2021, it made $1.92 billion in revenue for the whole of 2021. Despite the platform boasting over 47 million daily active users, getting those players to check out your game on such a popular platform and then converting those players into sales through in-game purchases is fierce competition.
The closed nature of Roblox means that any games and tools created for Roblox can only ever be used on Roblox. Perhaps more frightening is the reality that this closed ecosystem could suddenly be shut down overnight if the platform ever found itself in trouble. Imagine investing years or even over a decade of your time into mastering tools and a language for a specific platform knowing that everything you’ve worked on could suddenly disappear.
Sadly, this is the inevitable risk of centralised metaverse platforms. As many gamers will know, it’s not unusual for some of the most popular video games to eventually get switched off. If the current race to the metaverse is being fueled by the development of closed metaverse solutions, we have to prepare for the fact that, just like video games, many of them will cease to exist ten years down the line.
The only way forward is an open metaverse with a completely decentralised economy, one where creators are fairly compensated for their work and are able to unleash their creativity and assets across interconnected worlds and platforms, rather than just one. Now that the NFT overhype has died out and the space stabilizes, there’s never been a better chance to do this and show the potential of blockchain technology and the benefits it can offer to both creators and consumers, away from the stigma of NFTs and the existing hype.
This is at the heart of our mission at Fragnova Foundation as we work towards building the true foundations of the metaverse with a completely decentralised gaming ecosystem underpinned by blockchain technology.
Other organisations, such as the Open Metaverse Interoperability Group and the Metaverse Standards Forum, are also adhering to this concept, in the face of large firms wanting to create ‘their metaverse’. Let us be clear, there is only one metaverse; companies can try to carve out pieces of it for themselves but, without interoperability to the rest, they will struggle to endure.
There are key elements that will make an open, decentralised metaverse operate successfully:
- At its most basic level, game developers and players should be able to monetize the games and assets they develop. This requires a technology such as Fragnova’s own blockchain, which records all of the information needed to pay out royalties, assert ownership and keep track of licensing rights.
- Connected to this idea of monetization, the assets underpinning their creation such as modelling tools and skins need to be fully interoperable. This would mean that, for example, an avatar created in one game environment would be usable elsewhere.
- The community needs to remain in control and always have the final say. This is another area where blockchain technology is important. Unlike many of the current metaverse platforms, a blockchain-based platform faces no risk of being shut down due to its immutability, creating an environment where player-created content is permanently preserved.
This decentralised way of creating, free from the control of a single entity, is key to the future of the metaverse living up to the foundations of freedom that many associate with it. Otherwise, we risk the chance of history repeating itself in the form of a dot-com bubble burst, but this time it will be hundreds of metaverse companies that go bankrupt.
Editor’s note: For more on the metaverse, how it’s built, and how it ties into the journey to 6G join us at 6GSymposium, Washington DC, Oct 11-12.
Long time reader, first time contributor. Love technology and the great outdoors. Looking forward to discussing everything beyond 5G and the future of wireless technology!